Worship Leads to Theology

I thought I would try a little Latin lingo on you this week. Here it goes. Lex orandi lex credendi. The translation in English would be something like “the rule of praying is the rule of faith.” And the idea behind this motto from the Christian Tradition is that worship leads to theology.

Why does this matter? Well I’m glad you asked!

For starters, it suggests that there was a worshiping tradition first, and then there was the development of creeds and doctrines that reflected and safeguarded the way disciples worshiped and celebrated their Lord Jesus.

Commensurately, it suggests that if we worship differently than did the first believers and their successors, it very well may be that we are unwittingly adopting understandings that are doctrinally different than what was taught by our Lord and his apostles.

Take for example the way we address the one we worship. We are warned in the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods! So how are we to address the One True God? And why do we as Lutherans worship “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”?

Early on Christians worshiped Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when they offered prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. They believed Jesus’ testimony that he was the one pointed to and anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Law and the Prophets. They knew Jesus addressed this God as “Father” and he taught his disciples to pray to “our Father”. Jesus also spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son’s very presence to be with believers until the end of the age. And so, Trinitarian language was embedded in the worship of the Christian community before the formation of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

When lex orandi lex credendi is not appreciated you can witness all kinds of dangerous attempts of creating new worship forms, not the least of which are forms which fail to be Trinitarian…

Since You Asked…

What do Lutherans believe is given in Holy Communion?

“We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine. We believe, teach, and confess that the words of the testament of Christ are to be understood in no other way than in their literal sense, and not as though the bread symbolized the absent body and the wine the absent blood of Christ, but that because of the sacramental union they are truly the body and blood of Christ” (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Art. VII.)

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10 that the bread is “a participation in the Lord’s body.” If the Lord’s body were not truly present, the bread would perhaps be a participation in his spirit. But Paul says it is a participation in his body!


Word and Sacrament

There is a shape or pattern to historic Christian liturgy. In summary form that design is fourfold: It has involved being gathered, being ministered to by God’s Word, being further nurtured by the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and then being sent out in mission. Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending!

As Lutherans we often talk about “Word and Sacrament”, and in keeping with the sequence I just mentioned, we first are gathered by the Holy Spirit to receive the Word and the Sacrament, and then having been forgiven, nourished, and equipped we are sent out to our vocations in the family and society. And then having been sent in this endeavor, we are regathered once again for the Divine Service, that is, to be forgiven, nourished, and equipped by the Word and the Sacraments.

From the earliest days in Christianity the cycle just mentioned happened at least every seven days. And Sunday, the day of the week that our Lord was resurrected, became the most common day to meet once a week. This is also called in Scripture “the first day of the week.”

In Acts 2:42 we read, “And they [baptized believers] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It would be easy to quickly read and gloss over the word “devoted”. The tense of the verb here indicates that they “continually devoted themselves,” and there is a sense of the Greek word behind the English of giving steadfast and unremitting attention to a matter!

And in Luke 24, beginning with verse 27 the Risen Lord Jesus is found teaching two of his followers. We read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” And then just a few verses later we find Jesus breaking bread with them at table. It was then that they recognized Jesus! Word and Sacrament! Being gathered for the same, and then being sent…

Since You Asked…

What does the Advent Wreath Symbolize?

The circle of the wreath reminds us of eternity and our God and Father who has no beginning and no end. The green boughs indicate the hope of life being renewed. The candles represent Christ, the Light of God, who comes into this dark world to bring light and life. The four colored candles lit successively over the four Sundays in Advent, represent the patience required in waiting for Christ’s coming. As there were centuries of waiting between the Old Testament prophets and the birth of Christ, so we must patiently wait for Christ’s return at the end of the age. At Gift of Grace we wait until Christmas Eve to finally light the white center candle (the Christ Candle) to indicate that the fulfillment of the promise of God with the birth of the Christ Child on the first Christmas morn.

The Liturgical Year

I love how the liturgical calendar differs from our regular calendars. For instance a New Year liturgically begins with the First Sunday in Advent, which this year is December 2. And then instead of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, you have the Seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. In place of National holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and the like, you have the principle feasts of The Nativity of Our Lord, The Baptism of Our Lord, The Epiphany of Our Lord, The Transfiguration of Our Lord, The Resurrection of Our Lord, and Christ the King Sunday.

Other important feasts of the Church year that have fixed dates, but their celebration often takes place at the nearest Sunday include The Circumcision and Name of Jesus on Jan. 1, The Presentation of Our Lord on Feb. 2, The Annunciation of Our Lord on Mar. 25, The Visitation on May 31, The Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24, St. Micahel and All Angels on Sept. 29, All Saints Day on Nov. 1. And of course as Lutherans we often celebrate the lesser festival of Reformation Day on October 31.

What saddens me is how some of the principle feasts have been usurped by Pop Culture with a different way of celebrating and having fun. For example, when we think of Halloween we usually think of trick-or-treating and as dressing up in costumes – some of ghouls and goblins, and others as monsters, famous people, cartoon figures, and you name it. All good fun! But where is the remembrance that October 31 is “All Hallows’ Eve”, that is, the Eve of All Saint’s Day?

I could go on by mentioning Jolly Saint Nick and the Easter Bunny, but what’s the use? If only these fun ways of celebrating were on another day, perhaps close by, and we celebrated Christian Feasts with the Divine Service, and an attendant meditation on the event in Christ’s life and ministry being celebrated!

As I mentioned, I love the liturgical calendar…

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of the Season of Advent?

The Church year begins with Advent, a season of preparation that looks toward both Bethlehem and Christ’s return at the end of the age. Advent is its own Season and the rich symbols and themes should be safeguarded and celebrated without being drowned out by the upcoming celebration of Christmas. The first two Sundays in Advent center on the Parousia (Christ’s Second Coming). The third Sunday in Advent centers on John the Baptist as the herald of Christ. And the fourth Sunday often centers on the Virgin Mary in her exalted role in giving birth to God’s Anointed One.


The Apostolic Community

woman-holding-a-candle-at-night-during-the-easter-PUNJ23T.jpg

The tenth and final footprint of the Holy Spirit noted by our Assistant to the Bishop, the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba, has to do with how people who come to Christ by way of Baptism are then joined by the Holy Spirit to the Apostolic Community, that is, the Church.

There is an extreme emphasis on the individual in our culture. Perhaps this is a reaction to the ills of the ideologies of collectivism and socialism. But we need to be aware of the harm with all “isms”, including “individualism”.

Created in the image and after the likeness of the Triune God we were created for community, so that we might join in the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with others created in God’s image. We were born to a family that resided with other families in a community. And in Baptism, joined to Christ the head, we necessarily are joined to all the other members of his Body.

It is in the Church, as the workshop of the Holy Spirit, that sinners are made into disciples. It is in this context that we are ministered to with Word and Sacrament that are extended to us from outside ourselves! One does not commune oneself. You receive the gift from Christ’s ambassador.

And so the tenth footprint joins the preceding nine. By way of reminder, the first footprint is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer for) the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. The fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness. The sixth is clarity in pointing to Christ’s crucifixion. The seventh is the constant and repeated witness to the Cross. The eighth is in working the message deep into the hearts of sinners. And the ninth is in our being joined to Christ through Baptism.

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “liturgy”? (from the Greek, “work of the people” or “public service”):

More than a set form of service or one particular service, the liturgy is the whole body of texts and music used for the worship of God. The Lutheran Book of Worship is the liturgy of many Lutheran churches in North America. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Our Lutheran liturgy involves the participation of all who are gathered: clergy, worship assistants, and laity. Worship is not a spectator sport. We have been gathered by God to receive from Him. And so in reverence, we give thanks by offering praise and thanksgiving to our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Liturgical worship helps us all share in this.

Joined to His Promises

water-drops-sprays-splashes-stream-flow-PJA73PL.jpg

The ninth footprint of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts has to do with the Holy Spirit’s action in the waters of Baptism. But before I continue, let us briefly review the former footprints.

The first footprint is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer for) the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. The fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness. The sixth is clarity in pointing to Christ’s crucifixion. The seventh is the constant and repeated witness to the Cross. And the eighth is in working the message deep into the hearts of sinners.

When a person becomes convicted of his sin and is ready to call out for help, the Holy Spirit directs him to call out to our Lord Jesus and to put his trust in him. At the same time there is a shape to the way a person comes to Christ and becomes joined to him and his promises. In a word, that shape is Baptism.

When on the Day of Pentecost the people cried out in response to Peter’s preaching, “What must we do?” Peter’s response is “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is, according to Romans 6, the way we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection along with their benefits.

Paul makes clear the connection of the Holy Spirit’s work in the rite of Baptism. In Titus 3, verses 5 and 6, he puts it this way: “He saved us … according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Since You Asked…

Why do we celebrate Holy Communion nearly every Sunday?

The celebration of the meal we call Holy Communion has consistently been the chief act of Christian worship since the age of the Apostles. The Lutheran Reformation did not break with this tradition of 1,500 years. In fact the Augsburg Confession (our principal statement of faith) declares Holy Communion to be the chief act of worship for Lutherans on Sundays and festivals (Art. 26). (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

You might think of Holy Communion as spiritual bread and drink for our journey (pilgrimage), for our Lord’s Body and Blood is true nutrition indeed!


Being Faithful in Bearing Witness

The eighth footprint of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts has to do with how the Holy Spirit can work the message of the Gospel deep into the hearts of sinners.

In response to the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, we read in verse 37 “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.” And because of the Holy Spirit’s work to bring conviction those who were cut to the heart then asked, “What shall we do?”

And Peter’s response was, “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” It is certainly not a comfortable thing to come under conviction and have a troubled heart. But as we discussed with the sixth footprint, being cut to the heart has a salutary effect. It predisposes us to seek relief. And the only true relief available is that of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before I say more, it will be well to review the prior footprints. The first is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer for) the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. The fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness. The sixth is clarity in pointing to Christ’s crucifixion. And the seventh is the constant and repeated witness to the Cross.

Truly much patience and trust are needed as we bear witness to the Gospel. We will certainly try to be as persuasive and winsome as possible, but the work of conversion is dependent on God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a mystery on when and how the Holy Spirit works in the hearer’s heart. Our concentration must be in being faithful in bearing witness.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of All Saints’ Day?

The significance is expressed in the hymn The Church’s One Foundation, the fifth stanza: “And mystic sweet communion / With those whose rest is won.” We certainly mourn in death the physical separation with our loved ones, but the Church affirms that the dead in Christ are very much alive and are present with our Lord. We further believe in the Resurrection of the dead on the last day, and our joyful reunion with the saints of all the ages in the eternal kingdom of our Lord. Therefore we can speak of our dearly departed as being a part of the Church Triumphant while we remain the Church Militant. On the festival of All Saints we direct our attention to the richness of Christian history, and the manifold workings of God’s grace through the lives of believers who have gone before us. It is also an appropriate time to honor the memory of those members of our congregation who have died.

Focus on the Cross

The seventh of ten footprints of the Holy Spirit is our topic of discussion this week. But first it will be worthwhile to review the first six.

The first is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer for) the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. The fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness. And the sixth is clarity in pointing to Christ’s crucifixion.

The seventh footprint of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Book of Acts has to do with the way the Holy Spirit brings the central message home. That is, he repeatedly returns to a focus on what Christ has accomplished on our behalf through his death on the Cross. For instance, when people were amazed at the healing of a lame beggar effected through Peter and John, the Apostles immediately drew people’s attention to Jesus as the reason for the miracle. And they identified Jesus as the one that the people had delivered over to the Roman Governor, Pilate, to be crucified!

Although their message could be harsh and direct, for instance when they accused the people of killing the Author of life, they also immediately declare that it was ordained that Jesus should suffer in this manner, and that by his suffering and death Jesus is able to give forgiveness and life! Day in and day out the Holy Spirit brings home the message of the Cross and impresses it upon the ears and hearts of the people.

The Holy Spirit continues to do his work in our midst today. As we gather for the Divine Service there are at least 52 times a year the Gospel is shared - in the liturgy, in the hymns, in the sermons, and in the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is at work to bring the message home!

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “catholic” as when we confess, “I believe in the holy catholic Church?”

The term “catholic” means whole and refers to a church which receives the Christian faith intact without alteration or selection of matters of the faith. The opposite of catholic is heretic, one who picks and chooses which parts of the faith to accept. Thus “catholic” is more specific than “Christian” and is not a synonym for “ecumenical” or “worldwide”. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

- often when the “C” is capitalized “Catholic” is referring to the Roman Catholic Church, and when the “c” is lower case “catholic” is referring to the Church receiving the whole of the faith.


Clear as a Bell

peter-bucks-734349-unsplash.jpg

This week we have arrived at the sixth footprint of the Holy Spirit. It is worth recounting the features of the first five. The first is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer) for the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. And the fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness.

The sixth footprint is on how the Holy Spirit helps us to hone in on Christ’s crucifixion and our complicity in this innocent death. On the day of Pentecost Peter boldly proclaimed to the men of Israel that the man they had crucified, God had raised him up from the dead.

Peter’s proclamation was a clear as a bell. In simple statements he punctuates the salient factors. Jesus was attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders. This Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. It is this one you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. This very one God raised up from the dead.

An interesting reversal takes place on this day. Peter becomes fearless. And the hearers become fearful. We shall see with the upcoming eighth footprint how those who are full of fear will be “cut to the heart” and how this will have a salutary effect in Christ’s mission to redeem sinners.

But suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit brings clarity to our witness. He helps us to hone in on Jesus. And whether our message is lengthy or brief, and whether we share much or little of Jesus’ itinerary while walking on earth, the focal point of the witness is his innocent death at the hands of sinners, and his third day resurrection. This is the crux of how our Lord has won our salvation.

Since You Asked…

What is an Alb? And why does our Pastor wear one?

Alb (from the Latin “white”): a white ankle-length vestment with sleeves, often gathered at the waist with a cincture, worn by all ranks of ministers, ordained and unordained. The classical tunic became a specific church vestment about the fifth century. One of the functions of an ordained minister in our tradition is for that person to represent Christ to the people. Christ is pictured in the Book of Revelation with a white robe. The white robe is also a symbol of his righteousness. For this reason, the alb is a proper covering for the presiding minister with the function of representing Christ to the people. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)


Making Christ Visible

robert-nyman-442994-unsplash.jpg

In our ongoing series, this week we consider the fourth footprint of the Holy Spirit. This is the fourth of ten. And the discovery of these footprints is happening as we consider the Book of Acts, especially as the Book punctuates the indispensable importance of the Third Person of the Trinity to Christ’s mission in the world.

By way of quick reminder, the third footprint had to do with how the Holy Spirit first comes upon the gathering of believers collectively before he begins to also fill each believer individually. This speaks volumes as to the importance of the Church.

This week we pay attention to one of the miracles effected by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. As people gathered around the house (was it the Temple?) where the disciples had gathered, and where all the commotion was taking place, they heard the disciples publicly declaring the mighty works of God. Perhaps that would be miraculous enough. But the people gathered from throughout the Mediterranean basin to be in Jerusalem for the festival heard the disciples’ testimony in as many as fifteen different languages! The Holy Spirit miraculously gave the handful of disciples the ability to speak in different foreign languages!

Dr. Buba, one of the Assistants to the Bishop in the NALC, stated it this way: “There were fifteen different languages, but there was one message of what God has done.” Another memorable phrase of Dr. Buba was this. “The Holy Spirit who is 100% invisible, helps to make Christ 100% visible to us.” And he helps accomplish this by overcoming the divide of language, which represents different races, cultures, and nations.

Now as we wait upon the Lord in prayer and are filled with the Holy Spirit, our speaking of what God has done in Christ will be empowered. It will be empowered so that the Christian message is essentially one, and so that the barriers to communication can be overcome.

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the Incarnation?

The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.

The Workshop of the Holy Spirit

el-alce-web-379807-unsplash.jpg

In considering the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba’s 10 Footprints of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, we have already discussed the first two. First, we talked about the importance of our Lord Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. And second, we spoke of the importance of waiting on the Lord in prayer so that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Footprint number three has to do with how God goes about fulfilling his promise. The first pouring out of the Spirit is instructive. We read about it in Acts 2:1-4: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Notice that the Holy Spirit first fills the entire house where the disciples were gathered. And then he filled each individual believer. That is to say, the Holy Spirit comes upon the gathering of believers and then goes to work in individual lives!

Someone has called the church the workshop of the Holy Spirit. And here we need to think of the church, not primarily as a building, but rather as the gathering of believers. We like to say in our Lutheran tradition that it is the assembly of believers gathered around Word and Sacrament.

The Lutheran Confessions teach that the gifting of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is in Holy Baptism. And we do not baptize ourselves! We receive baptism in the context of the church. And after this, with the nurture of the church we learn to rely on, and not to shut out, the gift of the Holy Spirit, thereby being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit.

Since You Asked…

What is the Christian’s Hope?

In a word, it is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting in the world to come. This is more accurate and complete than just saying “life after death.” It is also more helpful than saying “going to heaven.” When Jesus returns at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead, baptized believers will be raised bodily! They will share in a resurrection similar to Jesus’ resurrection. And being in his presence on that day and for all eternity is not just a matter of escaping to heaven, but living in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The Lord intends to renew and restore his creation. So our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, with believers inheriting the Kingdom.